Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller
hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the
characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story
with a taut, economical backbone.
Django Unchained (2012) (MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has
regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at
very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django
Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a
director in Kill Bill), I was
pleasantly surprised by Inglourious
Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in
its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular
protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic.
As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was
operating at his zenith. Django Unchained
is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his
all-important aesthetic pr…
2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that
it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in
advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are
generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight;
just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his
Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s
an actor who is more effective the less
he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing
less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever
expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.
Total Recall (1990)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven offered his post-mortem on the failures of the remakes of Total Recall (2012) and Robocop (2013) when he suggested “They take these absurd stories and make them too serious”. There may be something in this, but I suspect the kernel of their issues is simply filmmakers without either the smarts or vision, or both, to make something distinctive from the material. No one would have suggested the problem with David Cronenberg’s prospective Total Recall was over-seriousness, yet his version would have been far from a quip-heavy Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars (as he attributes screenwriter Ron Shusset’s take on the material). Indeed, I’d go as far as saying not only the star, but also the director of Total Recall (1990) were miscast, making it something of a miracle it works to the extent it does.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.
Communion (1989) (SPOILERS) Whitley Strieber’s Communion: A True Story was published in 1987, at which point the author (who would also pen Communion’s screenplay) had seen two of his novels adapted for the cinema (Wolfen and The Hunger), so he could hardly claim ignorance of the way Hollywood – or filmmaking generally – worked. So why then, did he entrust the translation of a highly personal work, an admission of/ confrontation with hidden demons/ experiences, to the auteur who unleashed Howling II and The Marsupials: Howling III upon an undeserving world? The answer seems to be that Strieber already knew director Philippe Mora, and the latter was genuinely interested in the authors’ uncanny encounters. Which is well and good and honourable, but the film entirely fails to deliver the stuff of cinematic legend. Except maybe in a negative sense.
Strieber professes dismay at the results, citing improvised scenes and additional themes, and Walken’s rendition of Whitley Strieber, protagonist…
Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features
opted to change the title from The
Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour,
subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its
introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch
here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked
action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the
main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his
earlier (co-directed) John Wick.
The Golden Child (1986) Post-Beverly
Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it
would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he
chose to make this misconceived stinker.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) (SPOILERS) Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the only series entry
(thus far) I haven’t seen at the cinema. After the first two prequels I felt no
great urgency, and it isn’t an omission I’d be hugely disposed to redress for (say)
a 12-hour movie marathon, were such a thing held in my vicinity. In the bare
bones of Revenge of the Sith, however,George Lucas has probably the strongest, most
confident of all Star Wars plots to
This is, after all, the reason we have the
prequels in the first place; the genesis of Darth Vader, and the confrontation
between Anakin and Obi Wan. That it ends up as a no more than middling movie is
mostly due to Lucas’ gluttonous appetite for CGI (continuing reference to its
corruptive influence is, alas, unavoidable here). But Episode III is also Exhibit A in a fundamental failure of casting
and character work; this was the last chance to give Anakin Skywalker
substance, to reveal his potential …